VOLUME 32 / NUMBER 2/ 2006 

Camilla Matuk

Mr. Oldenburg extends his invitation

Scholarly journals, then, exist to promote original scholarship, to accommodate scholarship in its variety, but also to influence its general direction and shape, to certify it as worthy of note and trust to whatever audience is reached, and to preserve it as such.
- Tomlins, 1998

Begun in 1974 as the website proudly states, this journal that you hold before your eyes may very well be one of the only scholarly publications tailored to you of such unique professions and/or interests. To further quote the website:

The Journal of Biocommunication is dedicated to serving as a showcase of biocommunication techniques; describing proven and experimental procedures in medical art and illustration, print, photography, film, television, computer, multimedia systems, and other communication modalities applied in the health sciences…

 (It) is a scholarly publication intended to provide objective and useful information to the biocommunication community. This includes the written exchange of formal studies, analyses of experience, evaluation of materials, creative examples of the best in biocommunications, and ideas or opinions contributing to the effective utilization of communications media to improve health-care through education, clinical practice and research (The Journal of Biocommunication 2006)

But the JBC is part of a much older tradition of scholarly communication. Prior to the 17th century, the exchange of new ideas, techniques, and methods only occurred in informal discussions among researchers, scientists, artists, and thinkers. It was not until the mid-1600s that the first learned societies were formed, including the Royal Society in London, 1660 (Birch, 1968), and the Académie des sciences in Paris, 1666. Also around this time, Europe’s population surged and likely created a greater demand for information. Researchers found the need to widely and quickly disseminate knowledge for the sake of interest, progress, as well as to claim ownership of ideas (Fjällbrant 1997).

A number of mechanisms existed in the 17th century to accomplish these aims, including newspaper reports, popular almanacs, and calendars. But the most curious method, and perhaps the one most telling of researchers’ tendencies to secrecy and ownership, was the anagram system. In this system, a scientist would compose a sentence that stated his discovery, encrypt it as an anagram, and leave it in the hands of a witness. Upon his observation of Saturn’s three rings, for example, Galilei wrote to Kepler in 1610: smaismrmilmepoetalevmibunenugttaviras, or, when decoded: altissimum planetam tergeminum observari. This gave Galilei time to finalize his conclusions before making them public all the while ensuring that none other would claim priority over his discovery (Meadows 1974).

Alongside the scientific anagram was another common method of dissemination involving private correspondence with colleagues and friends in the form of letters. Often, a single person served as the gatekeeper of information passing to and from individuals and groups of scientists and released it on demand (Fjällbrant 1997). One such gatekeeper was Henry Oldenburg, Secretary of the Royal Society. Today, numerous records exist of his correspondences with learned men from around the world, which, as Secretary, he would read aloud at meetings of the Royal Society. In return, Oldenburg kept his correspondents up to date on the progress of science in England, and on the Society’s latest activities (Birch 1968).

Shortly after the publication of the first scientific journal, Journal des Sçavans, in Paris in 1665 – a kind of lay person’s miscellany of science news (Fjällbrant 1997) – there followed the first issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Produced and edited by Henry Oldenburg, this more philosophical publication served as a vehicle for reporting on new discoveries, observations, improvements on research methods, and works in progress (Eisenstein 1979; Fjällbrant 1997). While publication was much more rapid and less expensive than the also popular scientific book at the time (Fjällbrant 1997), the initial attitude of scientists toward journal publication was still one of intense secrecy and concern over intellectual property (Eisenstein 1979). They so clung to their old habits of restricting correspondence to a few select friends that collecting enough publishable material by the journal was difficult.

Perhaps the paranoia of the age was justified. Before a court ruling producing the Statute of Anne in 1709, copyright by the author simply did not exist. Afterward, authors wishing to publish their work had first to relinquish their right to perpetual copyright. It was only following the pivotal case of Donaldson vs. Beckett in 1774 that the status of authors as copyright holders was recognized. Thereafter, the journal became not only a means for scientific communication, but also a system for claiming intellectual ownership of ideas (Fjällbrant 1997).

Gradually, there came the development of the peer-reviewed journal where work submitted by scientists was deemed publishable, or not, by fellow experts in the field. Just as today, publication did not mean that work was necessarily correct. Rather, the purpose was to make work available to the public where it could be critiqued, discussed, and considered; it built upon the work that came before, and served as a foundation for work to come. The concept of peer-reviewing continues to play a major role in making journals the most authoritative and credible sources for scientific information (Zuckerman and Merton 1971).

And so you have our own JBC: humble offspring of those previous forays into research discourse, and product of centuries of editorial, managerial, and scholarly fine-tuning. For all those precious ties within and between academic and industrial spheres of medical illustration, publications such as the JBC and organizations like the AMI are crucial channels of communication; and for all intents and purposes, are sustained solely by member contributions.

The reasons to contribute work for formal publication are much the same today as they were over 340 years ago. If anything, the reasons are more numerous. Foremost is that sharing knowledge is essential to its growth and existence. What we feed into our global intellect spawns further questions, further research, and further knowledge that inevitably benefit us all. Moreover, journal publications are a means of wide and rapid dissemination of information; they allow details such as tables, graphs, figures and now motion media to be thoroughly examined; and they are accessible, easily archived, and also searchable references (Fjällbrant 1997) - all advantages that have been greatly enhanced with the introduction of electronic publishing in the last century.

Finally, what holds scholarly publications above mere participation in an internet discussion forum, or even contributing to those fast-growing internet wikis, is summarized nicely by Kauffer and Carley (1993): they establish ownership and priority of an idea or discovery; they provide academic or societal recognition for the author; and if credit and fame is not enough to convince the hesitant contributor, scholarly journals also help establish a professional community of authors and readers. They define the mission, the credibility, the merit, and the academic and professional worth of a discipline and its practitioners. Truly, the output of a journal is an indicator of its discipline’s vigor.

In August 2006, the AMI emailed a weekly news update to members on the listserv. Therein contained a short plea for volunteers to write and review articles for the JBC. Now in the earlier days of the Royal Society in London, when suspicion of opportunistic idea-thieves held authors’ pens, such pleas must have been common. Today, as most journal funding is modest and profit is zilch, ‘zines,’ literary, and scholarly journals commonly pop in and out of the publishing radar. To be fair, this may be due to a number of causes besides diminishing funds, management glitches, and competition from other journals. In these cases the responsibility falls to the editors and producers to make management decisions that will guide the journal to success.
But a journal will also flounder for lack of interest in its mission statement. In these cases it is the contributors who deal the final blow. It is they, by not contributing, who ultimately send the journal and its cause to rest. Needless to say, the responsibility falls to you the readers, for whom JBC is the lifeline within you profession and a certification of your profession.


Birch, T. 1968. The history of the Royal Society of London. 4 vols. New York: Royal Society. (Facsimile of 4 volume work published in London, 1757.)

Eistenstein, E. 1979. The printing press as an agent of change, communications, and cultural transformations in early modern Europe. Vols 1-2. London: CUP.

Fjällbrant. N. June 30th – July 4th, 1997. Scholarly Communication: Historical Development and New Possibilities. 18th IATUL Conference. NTNU Trondheim, Norway. http://www.iatul.org/conference/proceedings/vol07/papers/full/nfpaper.html (accessed September 1, 2006.)

The Journal of Biocommunication. 2006. http://jbiocommunication.org/ (accessed September 2, 2006).

Kaufer, D.S. and Carley, K.M. 1993. The influence of print on sociocultural organization and change. Hillsdale, N.J.:LEA.

Meadows, A.J. 1974. Communication in science. London: Butterworths.

Tomlins, C.L. 1998. Wave of the Present: The Scholarly Journal on the Edge of the Internet . American Council of Learned Societies. Occasional Paper no. 43. http://acls.org/op43.htm (accessed September 1, 2006).

Zuckerman, H. and Merton, R.K. 1971. Patterns of evaluation in science: institutionalism, structure and functions of the referee system. Minerva 9: 66-100.

About the Author

Camillia Matuk has a B.Sc. in Biological Sciences from the University of Windsor, and a M.Sc. in Biomedical Communications from the University of Toronto. For two years, she worked as a Medical Illustrator at InViVo Communications, Inc. in Toronto. Currently, she is a Ph.D student in Learning Sciences at Northwestern University in Illinois.

Email: camillia.matuk@gmail.com

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Table of Contents for VOLUME 32, NUMBER 2